Can we talk about something?
This has been bothering me for a while. I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I think the reason we keep getting Batman movies is that nobody has ever gotten to the true core of the character. Nobody has really dived into, and then embraced, the dark reality of the Dark Knight. I think everyone must sense it, but nobody is really willing to admit it – least of all to him.
Batman is objectively bad at his job.
Wait, hear me out.
Sure, Batman can catch a crook, that’s why he’s described as the World’s Greatest Detective. However, when it comes to the core mission, the thing he swore to do, Batman is a failure. In fact, he might actually be making things worse.
Let’s start with the mission – the catalyst that created the Batman – Bruce Wayne witnessing the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne. It was witnessing that traumatic event that a young Master Wayne swore “by the spirits of my parents [I will] avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals” [Link] This mission has later been broadened to merely ridding the city of evil. [Link]
That’s a pretty clear mission if I ever heard one. And in turning into the Batman, Bruce Wayne brought quite the arsenal to bear on crime.
Physically, Bruce Wayne is a master of multiple martial arts – everything from ninjitsu to boxing to random arts from “other shinobi.” And Bruce’s physical fitness extended beyond the combat arts. He’s frequently described as an Olympic-level athlete, with some pegging him as a natural decathlete. [Link]
Bruce Wayne is no mental schlub, either. His training took him to places such as Cambridge and the Sorbonne, and learning practical things like assassination and man-hunting has rendered him a master of deduction and earned him the nickname “The World’s Greatest Detective.” That claim is apparently more than marketing, with the Batman frequently described as a polymath – a multilingual scientist and an expert in just about every field known to man (according to DC canon).
But all that pales compared to Bruce Wayne’s greatest asset – his assets. The film “Way of the Gun” described fifteen million dollars as a “motive with a universal adapter.” Over the years, the character of Bruce Wayne saw his personal wealth rise from the kind measured in millions to the kind measured in billions. The modern Bruce Wayne is estimated to have a wealth between 7 and 12 billion dollars. [Link] This puts Mr. Wayne in the top 100 richest humans alive and ahead of Marvel’s Tony Stark – the guy currently bankrolling an entire team of superheros.
On paper, Bruce Wayne is the kind of guy kids used to brag about being on the playground: he’s the smartest, the strongest, the handsomest, and the richest. With a sexy Batman voice to boot.
When Bruce Wayne puts his mind to something, he is not afraid to play the long game, to go through extreme training regimes and develop the necessary expertise to put himself in the best position to succeed.
Unfortunately, when it comes his mission, his war on crime, the Batman’s plan seems to be “Dress as a bat and punch people in the face until crime stops being a thing.”
Does that sound like a plan that the one of the smartest people in the world would come up with? It certainly could fulfill the vow that young Bruce Wayne swore – to spend the rest of his life warring on all criminals – but not in a way that matters or leads to a long life.
The plan that Bruce Wayne puts into place isn’t so much an effective means to end crime but rather a long, drawn-out, and painful suicide attempt. He effectively swapped “Death by cop” for “Death by a thousand criminals.”
If Bruce Wayne were half the genius the comic books claim he is, he’d know that the key to victory comes not from being the best single man, but by being the most efficient – by maximizing his impact by minimizing his efforts.
The comics talk about this – somewhat – by asserting that Batman is creating an atmosphere of fear, in which criminals are afraid to commit crimes, lest they suffer the vengeance of the Bat. But even if Batman is able to spread a reign of terror, he’s only able to spread the reign as one man. He has a physical limit.
If Batman was good at his job, he would be acting in ways that maximize his effectiveness.
You can take the law-and-order approach and suggest that Bruce Wayne uses his wealth to improve law and order around Gotham. Maybe he donates to the police force. Maybe he sets up a private security detail. Or perhaps he sets up a series of drones that record everything in real time, transmitting HD recordings of crimes in progress to the police in real time. Whatever the case, Bruce Wayne makes it so criminals are captured.
Or maybe you take the social justice lean, and Bruce Wayne fights crime before it happens – by creating jobs and instituting social programs that lift the most endangered out of poverty and into a secure lifestyle. Hell, if he was so willing to waste money on his Bat-toys, his Bat Enterprises For Social Good needn’t even operate at a profit. Maybe Bruce Wayne introduces a living wage in Gotham.
Or maybe Batman takes the angle of hiring an army of Batmen (and women) to becomes the terrors of the night. He finds the best and brightest, he trains them and molds them, leading a private army. Sure, no single one of them would be as capable as the Batman, but together they could scale, being every where all the time. Fighting crime. At the very least they’d be a well-funded war “on all criminals” until the considerable Wayne fortune was extinguished. At best they’d actually manage to extinguish crime in Gotham without becoming a criminal syndicate unto themselves.
Oh, that last bit? Yeah. That’s the part that’s the worst.
Batman is a criminal.
See, Batman is not a superhero. The kindest descriptions label him a crime fighter. The media portrays him as a vigilante. But the most accurate term is a moralistic criminal. According to some canon, Bruce Wayne tried to join the FBI at age twenty. But, upon learning about he regulations, the young Master Wayne dropped out and decided to go his own way. Operating within the law was just too much to ask of the orphaned Master Wayne. He said “screw that” and did his own thing. He broke the law to save the law.
And that leads us to the ultimate darkness of the Batman. Here is a man who has dedicated his entire life to fighting crime. But the best solution he has is to become a criminal – to eschew the law and justice system and hunt down criminals on his own. There are only trials when they are convenient. The police are only involved when necessary. By and large, Batman hunts and detects on his own. He exists outside of the law. Above it, some would say.
When you strip away the costume and the most re-enacted parental double murder in pop culture, Bruce Wayne becomes the monster. He moves from being the World’s Greatest Detective to become a rich white man, a sadist using his parents’ tragic death as an excuse to physically assault those most likely to commit crimes: the poor, the mentally challenged, and people of color. What’s more, Bruce Wayne does this in lieu of having a real job, of contributing to society. He’s fine spending money on toys that make beating up the disadvantaged easier, but not so much on actually treating the root cause of crime.
And that, that, is the true darkness of Batman.
Here is a man who is has all the gifts in the world – physical, mental, financial – but instead of being happy, he chooses to dress as a bat and punch poor people in the face. He claims to be a hero, but in reality, he has become the very criminal that he vowed to fight.
Considering he chose the job of “removing evil from Gotham,” Bruce Wayne is objectively terrible at his job.